Was Carver right, and is AJ doomed to become him?
So, as I alluded to in my previous thread about the bridge decision and how players were reacting to it there's a massive elephant in the room.
Quick clarifications about the thread title: "right" has nothing to do with morality in this context, I'm gonna stick to his claims about the characters, not his politics or actions. Much more clarity in the former. And "AJ doomed to become him" is dependent on determinant choices as we'll get into, so doomed might be a bit overdramatic.
So, with the bridge situation in season 4... If the player trusted AJ earlier in the episode he shoots and kills Tenn to get Louis/Violet out of harm's way. I'm going to forgo the morality discussion to be had with that since I already made a thread on it.
What we're gonna focus on is the why. Once V/L start berating AJ for it he responds with
I didn't want to shoot him! He was my first real friend. But he was messing up, again. Just like when he got Mitch killed.
And the community seems to echo this idea. Considering Tenn a liability and thus Tenn is causing, or even deserving from the more extreme players, his death.
A quick distinction before going forward: Tenn's death at the hands of AJ is an active killing, not a passive one as with Ben or Sarah. Ben and Sarah were allowed or left to die through inaction. Tenn was killed with deliberate action.
The idea of killing liabilities through active means is not unique to AJ. It's appeared before in The Governor (the Free Comic Day issue in particular), The Whispers and our old friend William Carver. (It's worth noting that all 3 of these are very violent antagonists. Oh dear.) Now Carver is where it gets particularly interesting since he has a history with Clem/the player and is possibly AJs father (yeah, yeah, that's a whole other can of worms but the threat of possibility is there and worth noting).
During season 2 episode 3 he throws Reggie off of a roof killing him. He later addresses this to Clem/the player in his office.
You might not believe this after what happened earlier, but... I liked Reggie. He was a funny guy. He kept things light. You need folks like that. It's easy to let depression sink in during times like this. But he was weak. And I don't mean just cause he was maimed, that wasn't his problem. He was weak of will. Weak of character. And we can't have that around here... not anymore. Not with what we got at steak.
Listen Clementine, it ain't murder. You see Reggie put us at risk with his incompetence. He's had a string of screw-ups lately. Killing one in order to save many is part of survival. It's one of the tough decisions that a weaker person couldn't make. It's why it falls to people like us to lead them to safety. Do you understand? Well, I wish it was different, I do. But they are weak and we are strong. That's why it's our responsibility to shepherd the flock... to keep them safe. It's their nature to follow... not to lead.
And this is where you start to see similarities.
I didn't want to shoot him! He was my first real friend.
You might not believe this after what happened earlier, but... I liked Reggie. He was a funny guy.
Both say they didn't wish they had to, but felt they had to and were pushed into it by their ideology.
But he was messing up, again. Just like when he got Mitch killed.
You see Reggie put us at risk with his incompetence. He's had a string of screw-ups lately.
And both try to justify it, shift blame to the victim.
But it's after that part in Carver's speech where it starts getting... weird.
After the insinuation from "people like us" Clem/the player can tell him off
I'm not like you
I know it when I see it. And we're more alike than you think. In fact I think you realize it, but you're not comfortable with it yet.
Again this is said to the player as well as Clem. And given that many of those players would go on to defend their decision and try and justify AJ's actions.... he was right about those players. Usually a villain talking about "We're not so different" is hackney and cliched. There's little substance to it and the writing just wants you to think it's smart. But it seems that over time for a lot of players Carver turned out to be right without them even realizing it.
His speech takes another turn right after.
There's no way you could've lasted this long otherwise. I realized it back in that cabin. You were scared... but you looked me straight in the eye. Kept your nerve. That's what we need if we're gonna get through this. The next generation has to be stronger than the last to... lead us out of this. Kids like you, raised the right way. The way my child'll be raised.
I stand by the idea that a theme of season 4 given its ending is the durability of the remaining survivors, namely the kids. They faced the end of the world and a seemingly insurmountable enemy and won. Clem faced a trial very near to what Lee did and she survived. This generation is stronger than the last. The ending is hopeful. Even in the most extreme of circumstances most of the kids survived, so maybe they do stand a chance of bringing humanity out of the walker age. In other words; Carver was right.
But it's those last 2 lines that get real troubling real quick.
Kids like you, raised the right way. The way my child'll be raised.
Clem has a massive influence on AJ. She's one of, if not the only, person he's known most of his developed life. The game constantly has you teaching and guiding him. And if the player follows Carver's politics of leadership through strength, execution of liabilities, punishment by brutality, eye for an eye justice, and manipulation AJ will follow suit. But it gets even worse than that.
AJ will shoot Tenn of his own accord. Independent of what you've told him up until then aside from weather you say trust him or not. Even the most kind hearted playthrough where you don't trust him still has him aiming his gun and considering it.
This suggests that Carver's ideology doesn't need to be taught to him; at least some of it is in his nature. This means that just avoiding the pitfalls of Carver's ideas isn't enough. You have to actively reject and fight against them through mercy, optimism, and strives for peace where you can and should. At any instance where a heavy hand is needed you must clearly explain why, establish it was the exception and not the rule. You have to be better or Carver will be right.
So with the meat and bones over I'd like to share my experience with the matter as, in retrospect, I nearly fell into this. It's pretty long so I'm gonna tuck it into a spoiler tag.
I touched on it a bit in my thread about the realization I had after episode 3 but here's the full version: Episode 1 I played it cool. Be nice to everyone, and look for the peaceful route when conflict did arise. Abel wants food? Eh, it's 1 bag. Let him have it. Marlon surrenders? Eh, maybe exile would be good- OH SHIT. Nevermind I guess. I carried this over to where I could in episode 2. AJ killed someone? Explain that it was wrong, why it was wrong and how he should make up for it. They voted us out? Respect the process and leave peacefully. But once the conflict started getting messier and it was clear there was a war on the horizon I started getting much more hardline. We couldn't win a war of attrition so we'd have to hit hard and fast. Any means necessary. Lilly's trying to trick me? Shoot her. There's a leadership hole? Push Violet to lead. She's a fighter and can unify everyone behind her to fight too. But it's the episode's final decision that nearly sealed my fate. I chose to save Louis because he was a wreck and Violet was capable. I don't mean that I thought she was tough enough to handle capture but because it'd leave another hole in the leadership. One that Louis couldn't fill... but I could. And from there I'd be completely free to peruse the warpath. The only way out was through and we needed someone to get us through. We needed a leader who was... well... strong. It wasn't until writing this thread that I realized just how much like Carver that thought process was. So, come episode 3 I follow through on that idea. I still try to stay grounded where I can. Only hurt Abel after giving him a fair chance and then mercy kill him. Avoid killing anyone on the boat when sneaking in. Don't instigate the conflict, chose my battles. Head-on fights with the bulk of Lilly's forces is a fool's errand, so don't bother with them. Go for what's enabling or driving them. Take out the leadership, take out the boat and they'll be scattered and broken. Get that done at any cost. Now I couldn't avoid all conflict. When it came to me I leaned into it. I beat up Violet and Minnie without so much as a second thought, I let AJ tear that woman's ear off and felt almost proud when Louis killed her even though it cleared scared him. And I told AJ to shoot Lilly. Only in the wait between episodes 3 and 4 did I realize how far I'd gone off the deep end. Maybe I always knew it but with the war over, as far as I was concerned, I had my ends and was left looking back at the means. What stood out to me the most at first and what I talked about in the thread mentioned at the start of this massive paragraph was that I'd dragged the other kids into the fighting. Lilly was trying to turn them into child soldiers and I wound up doing the same thing, just for the opposite side. This is what snapped me out of it. Come episode 4 I did a proper 180 and tried to pick up the pieces. I instantly forgave Violet for actions previously, I tried my damndest to reconcile with James, explain why an exception should've been made for killing Lilly, and felt relived when Louis was able to cope quite well with having killed someone. But the one thing that saved it all for me was that I did not trust AJ to make the calls. I almost did. As much as I want to say it was due to some grandiose change of heart it was actually because I figured that because of Lilly I was sending mixed messages and still needed to give it more time. I think that saved it for me. Only in retrospect did I realize how close to the edge I'd come. And how when pushed I found myself falling right into the mindset of 2 villains without even realizing it and that terrifies me.
He's taken alvin's looks, his mother's hair, carvers personality.
Great analysis m8.
The thing that stood out to me was just how little remorse he had for shooting Tenn, his first and only friend. It was just...something that needed to be done.
But is that such a bad thing? In the end, the thing that killed Carver wasn't his survivalist mentality, it was his forgiveness and belief in 2nd and 3rd chances.
More like his egomaniacal need to control other people's lives.
My play was a bit different because, as it went on, I was realising how broken AJ seemed and was trying to get him to be nicer. Which is why the flashback at the end worked for me better than it may have worked for others - because the brutal actions in that completely contrasts with what I had been telling AJ. So AJ didn’t fire his gun at the end of my play because I didn’t trust him to, nor would I want him to. I agree with you on the problems with shooting Tenn.
Even at the very end of the game, I still didn’t trust AJ. He seems damaged and dangerous.
However, what AJ was born into is a world much harder and more ruthless than the one I’m born into and, in all honesty, my attempt to make him nicer might get him killed if this were all real. If he was in serious conflict situations it makes him an easy target. But the flip side is that, if he does go the Carver route (which I think he could), I feel he is more likely to actively create those conflict situations. And that could be more dangerous.
Being ruthless and trigger happy makes people nervous and scared. And in a world of walkers, guns and weapons and a scarcity of resources, I think some nervous and scared people will eventually do something stupid, whether that’s lashing out and killing the person, trying to escape or many other possible actions that could inadvertently cause weaknesses in an attempt to establish a community.
Good post! Didn’t think of the Carver parallels myself when playing. Still would sacrifice Tenn over Louis/Violet 99% of the time though, whatever that says about me...
I played through very differently. I told AJ he was Justified, I tortured Abel, I had him shoot Lily, and I trusted him in the end. I don’t regret a thing.
The difference between Carver and my Clementine’s mindset isn’t about how we survive, it’s about why we survive and what we fight to survive for. Carver forced many people (slaves) into camps to build a greater community and led with fear and power. He fought for a family (Rebecca and AJ) that wasn’t rightfully his, by force. Carver didn’t defend against conflict, he instigated it. My Clementine in TFS does what she has to in order to defend against people that are attacking her and the kids at the boarding school, she didn’t instigate conflict, she defended against it. Clementine doesn’t force others to join her community or force people against their will for her and the school’s benefit. We simply mind our own fucking business and if you’re an asswipe and try to fuck us over you bet your ass you aren’t gonna succeed or even get a second chance.
In regards to the Tenn or Louis/Violet choice, that’s a bit harder to break down but here’s my take on it. AJ’s smart when it comes to survival, he’s lived his whole life in an apocalypse, he saw this situation and instantly knew what was gonna happen: either Louis or Tenn dies, you decide. It’s not like Carver’s situation with Reggie because Reggie wasn’t directly putting anyone in danger, he simply wasn’t able to do all of his work as efficiently as Carver wanted him to (and he had one arm so what else was he gonna do?). Reggie could’ve been kept alive and it really wouldn’t have changed anything in regards to the safety of others. Tenn, on the other hand, was putting Louis/Violet in danger very directly. The decision AJ had to make wasn’t like Carver’s because it was very clearly choosing who lives or who dies. Carver killing Reggie falls more in line with with crawferd’s (I forgot how to spell that place) philosophy and basically goes more along the lines of “killing the weak so the strong have an easier time”, Reggie wasn’t getting anyone killed, Tenn was. So in the moment AJ decided to save Louis/Violet because he knew they wouldn’t get anyone killed and (while this is more speculative, I personally believe it’s true based off the dialogue) because Clementine either was really good friends or in love with Louis/Violet and AJ knew this and didn’t want Clementine to have to suffer that loss.
To put it simply, Carver was a stereotypical villain headass who started shit all the time. AJ and Clementine are just defending their home against asswipes who started it. So when AJ says he enjoys killing bad people who fuck us over and instigate conflict, good for him. Isn’t that basically what Kenny did to Carver? He got rid of a complete asswipe, so what if he enjoyed it.
This I find interesting because it still leaves a lot of room for nuance. For example: the initial confrontation with Abel in the train station. He threatens you and tries to take some food. Is a threat in it of itself a conflict? Wouldn't retaliation be an escalation of conflict? Are conflict escalations accounted for? What is the acceptable amount of conflict? Are motives taken into account? And at what point is the conflict considered ended? Marlon surrendered, was that the end?
These all kinda hypothetical by the way. Just using them to illustrate how most any world-view can get warped when run through the usual barrage of TellTale choices. It's why I try to never approach with a specific mentality, but rather just play it by ear as I go. The again that doesn't entirely keep you out of trouble either as shown in my personal experience bit at the bottom of OP. If you're quite self-critical like me they definitely keep you on your toes.